Views Sought on Proposed Food Traceability, Withdrawals and Recalls Guidance
On 7 January 2019, the Food Standards Agency (“FSA”) and Food Standards Scotland (“FSS”) launched a consultation on proposed new Guidance on Food Traceability, Withdrawals and Recalls within the UK Food Industry.
The consultation asks whether the draft guidance offers Food Business Operators (“FBOs”) and UK food enforcement authorities sufficient information and supporting tools to comply with food law. It gives advice on best practice where a food safety issue arises and whether a withdrawal or recall of a food or drink product is required.
Any food or drink business affected by the changes and wishing to submit a response should do so now as the consultation is only open until 4 February 2019. This is to ensure that the new guidance is available before the UK leaves the EU: one of the aims of the new guidance is to maintain public confidence in the safety of UK food and drink products as we prepare to leave the EU.
The new guidance will replace current guidance on food withdrawals and recalls, which was issued in 2007.
All FBOs have an obligation to ensure the safety of food which they either produce, store, distribute or sell and that any food placed on the market is safe. FBOs should be able to trace their own suppliers and customers, and to remove unsafe food from the market in the event of a food safety incident. To comply with these requirements FBOs should have a robust food safety management system setting out clear procedures on food traceability and how to deal with withdrawals or recalls.
The legal requirements in relation to traceability and food withdrawals or recalls have not changed, but the main updates to the guidance are summarised below:
- clearer guidance on what is required and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders in the withdrawal or recall of unsafe food in the UK;
- advice on best practice has been added, although the guidance explains that it is not a legal requirement to comply with best practice;
- in relation to traceability, it is usually for the FBO to decide how long to keep records depending on the nature of the product and its shelf life. Whilst this is still accepted practice, the new guidance provides that best practice is to keep records for a minimum of 12 months;
- for food withdrawals or recalls, the new guidance contains comprehensive procedures for FBOs to follow, including:
- a decision tree for determining whether food is unsafe;
- action point checklists for both withdrawals and recalls;
- example recall notices;
- specific action point checklists for retailers and caterers;
- detailed notification procedures.
While the inclusion of templates and examples is welcome, there is likely to be considerable administration involved in reviewing existing procedures once the guidance is issued. The consultation estimates that implementation of the new guidance will cost FBOs around £7,371 each.
With the estimated increase in the cost of compliance, coupled with far more systematic guidance and the introduction of best practice standards, businesses will need to review their food safety management systems and crisis response/recalls protocols and consider carefully any changes required.
The UK’s ability to demonstrate that it has a robust system in place for ensuring the safety of its food, and that it can deal with food safety incidents promptly and with minimal disruption, is clearly the main driver for the changes. The FSA/FSS consultation closes on 4th February meaning that the new guidance will be introduced very soon, and certainly ahead of the UK’s exit from the EU on 29th March. There are a lot of issues to consider so now is a good time to review your existing traceability and withdrawal/recalls procedures and make any changes necessary to ensure that your procedures are in line with the anticipated changes.
If you have any queries on the consultation or food safety issues generally including recalls please do not hesitate to get in touch.
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